The Royals are whittling down their roster to get to 26 by Opening Day a week from today. Most of the starters are set, but there may still be some surprises. One surprise could be Kyle Isbel, who is apparently still in the running for an Opening Day roster spot, despite being reassigned to minor league camp this week. Manager Mike Matheny told reporters today that Isbel is “in the mix.”
Mike Matheny on Kyle Isbel, who is starting today in RF for the second straight game: "He's another guy who is in the mix and conversation (for the Opening Day roster). We're trying to get as many looks as we can before we make our final decision."— Alec Lewis (@alec_lewis) March 25, 2021
Isbel is starting in right field for this afternoon’s game against the Diamondbacks. The 24-year old outfielder has impressed in camp, hitting .313/.395/.563 with two home runs and four walks in 38 plate appearances. The left-handed hitter has a good blend of power and speed, with an ability to draw walks.
Isbel was a third-round pick in 2018 out of UNLV and immediately impressed, hitting .326/.389/.504 with seven home runs in 64 games in the low minors that season. He struggled in 2019 in Low-A Wilmington, and was hit by injuries to his hamstring and he missed some time after a ball struck him in the face in the outfield.
The Royals could be considering keeping Isbel to get him some playing time quickly after he missed so much time in 2019 and the entire 2020 season. With the minor league season delayed until May, Isbel could get in some at-bats ahead of other minor leaguers to get his career back on track.
But the Royals could also be down on the offensive progress made by second baseman Nicky Lopez, who has struggled in spring training. The emergence of Isbel could allow Whit Merrifield to move back to second base, giving the Royals a better overall lineup. The Royals have also talked to Hunter Dozier about moving back to right field to possibly accommodate Bobby Witt, Jr., should he come up as a third baseman at some point this year.